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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter12)

2006-08-28 16:05

  Chapter XII. Of the Stranger's Tale, Which, Being Short, May Perhaps Meet with the Reader's Kind Approbation.

  "In ancient times, sirs," began the stranger, with his gaze upon the hurrying waters of the brook, "when a man had committed some great sin he hid himself from the world, and lashed himself with cruel stripes, he walked barefoot upon sharp flints and afflicted himself with grievous pains and penalties, glorying in the blood of his atonement, and wasting himself and his remaining years in woeful solitude, seeking, thereby, to reclaim his soul from the wrath to come. But, as for me, I walk the highways preaching always forgiveness and forgetfulness of self, and if men grow angry at my teaching and misuse me, the pain of wounds, the hardships, the fatigue, I endure them all with a glad and cheerful mind, seeking thereby to work out my redemption and atonement, for I was a very selfish man." Here the stranger paused, and his face seemed more lined and worn, and his white hair whiter, as he stared down into the running waters of the brook.

  "Sirs," he continued, speaking with bent head, "I once had a daughter, and I loved her dearly, but my name was dearer yet. I was proud of her beauty, but prouder of my ancient name, for I was a selfish man."

  "We lived in the country, a place remote and quiet, and consequently led a very solitary, humdrum life, because I was ever fond of books and flowers and the solitude of trees——a selfish man always. And so, at last, because she was young and high-spirited, she ran away from my lonely cottage with one who was a villain. And I grieved for her, young sirs, I grieved much and long, because I was lonely, but I grieved more for my name, my honorable name that she had besmirched, because, as I told you, I was a selfish man." Again the stranger was silent, sitting ever with bent head staring down at the crystal waters of the brook, only he clasped his thin hands and wrung them as he continued:

  "One evening, as I sat among my roses with a book in my hand, she came back to me through the twilight, and flung herself upon her knees before me, and besought my forgiveness with sobs and bitter, bitter tears. Ah, young sirs! I can hear her weeping yet. The sound of it is always in my ears. So she knelt to me in her abasement with imploring hands stretched out to me. Ah, the pity of those white appealing hands, the pity of them! But I, sirs, being as I say a selfish man and remembering only my proud and honorable name, I, her father, spurned her from me with reproaches and vile words, such burning, searing words as no daughter should hear or father utter."

  "And so, weeping still, she turned away wearily, hopelessly, and I stood to watch her bowed figure till she had crept away into the evening and was gone."

  "Thus, sirs, I drove her from me, this wounded lamb, this poor broken-hearted maid——bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh——I drove her from me, I who should have comforted and cherished her, I drove her out into the night with hateful words and bitter curses. Oh, was ever sin like mine? Oh, Self, Self! In ancient times, sirs, when a man had committed some great sin he lashed himself with cruel stripes, but I tell you no rod, no whip of many thongs ever stung or bit so sharp and deep as remorse——it is an abiding pain. Therefore I walk these highways preaching always forgiveness and forgetfulness of self, and so needs must I walk until my days be done, or until——I find her again." The stranger rose suddenly and so stood with bent head and very still, only his hands griped and wrung each other. Yet when he looked up his brow was serene and a smile was on his lips."

  "But you, sirs, you are friends again, and that is good, for friendship is a blessed thing. And you have youth and strength, and all things are possible to you, therefore. But oh, beware of self, take warning of a selfish man, forget self, so may you achieve great things."

  "But, as for me, I never stand upon a country road when evening falls but I see her, a broken, desolate figure, creeping away from me, always away from me, into the shadows, and the sound of her weeping comes to me in the night silences." So saying, the stranger turned from them and went upon his way, limping a little because of his hurts, and his hair gleamed silver in the sunshine as he went.

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